Childhood, Compassion, Family, Forgiveness, Holiness Standards, Leadership, Parents, Poverty, Self Esteem, Sexual Abuse, Shame, Trauma, Uncategorized, United Pentecostal Church

You Are Worthy

Today I want to tell you that you are worthy. If you were sexually abused as a child you are worthy. You did not draw that older man into sin. He made his choices and he was an adult. You were a child and children cannot consent. I am so sorry if the church did not protect you, love you, and help you to heal. You deserve love, support, and an apology. I am still stunned at Calvary Gospel’s silence. I am experiencing them as no more loving now than they were when I was a child.

You are worthy even if your family did not dress right, or if you are brown or black, and even if your family did not tithe enough. A child shouldn’t have to pay for their parent’s choices. None of us can control the color of our skin or the family we are born into. We certainly could not have controlled our parent’s actions.

You are worthy even if you made mistakes, snuck into the movies, or listened to top 40 radio when your parents were out. These things are not sins, they are a normal part of growing up. No one perfectly listens to the adults in their life. Normal human development dictates that teens challenge adults, it is how we grow and become independent.

You are worthy if you wore a slit in your skirt, asked too many questions, or got bored in church. If you kissed a boy behind the church camp auditorium when you were supposed to be inside, if you faked being sick to stay home from church, and even if you faked speaking in tongues because you were afraid to disappoint your parents.

I see you trying to pretend that you are ok, trying to heal, trying to deal with the coldness coming from the people who raised us. I see you dealing with trauma, being the family outcast, never being 100% sure if you made the right decision when you left the church. I see you wondering if you should have kept your mouth shut about it all.

I understand not being educated properly and how that stays with you all your life. I understand playing small, staying invisible, always waiting for something bad to happen. I understand feeling weird in the world like you can never quite fit in. I understand the world not understanding where we come from and how exhausting it can be to try to explain.

For the men out there I see you too. Struggling to come to terms with what has happened to the women you grew up with, ministered to, your sisters and friends. I see you having many of the same struggles as I have only different at the same time. I know that there are survivors among you and when you are ready to tell your story we will be there for you as you have been there for us.

Consider this my love letter to all the survivors out there no matter what your damage is. You are worthy. Please don’t let those who refuse to ask for forgiveness, who refuse to take responsibility, and who choose to stand in judgment rather than lend aid define you. I see you as strong, brave, and overcomers. We have overcome the lack of love, support, grace, and normal human kindness we should have received as kids. We have found each other and created a life raft for one another and any new survivors who choose to join us. You are good even if you are not perfect. You are worthy.

 

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C-PTSD, Depression, Family, Fear, isolation, Rapture, Shame, Trauma, Uncategorized, United Pentecostal Church

The Process of Leaving and Dealing With Trauma

When I speak with survivors one topic comes up over and over again. The people in their lives who love them cannot understand why they continue to suffer from trauma and pain from the past. Friends, co-workers, and people they interact with online often seem to want to give them the same advice. They want to offer you a quick fix and often that fix comes with a warning about not forgiving or holding onto negativity for too long. What they don’t realize is that the process for working through trauma can take a lifetime. Forgiving and “moving on” is not going to resolve the trauma responses coming from the survivor’s body. It can seem like someone has moved on but if you’re not inside their head and their body you can’t really understand. Triggers can make it hard to not think about things and can effect the body in some very real ways.

When first leaving an abusive group you’re probably in survivor mode. You’re trying to figure out how to get away and then how to live without the community you may have been in since birth. People who have known you all your life might shun you or feel the need to warn you about hell and the coming end times. You may lose family and will most certainly lose friends in the process. Often you end up feeling much more alone than you could have ever imagined. You may not have the social skills needed to maneuver in the new world you find yourself apart of and you may lack job skills or be poorly educated. Add to this a fear of hell and the rapture and you can see why just getting out and acclimating to the world can be a very tall order. Once you’re out you may find yourself dealing with depression, anxiety, insomnia, and loneliness. I consider this to be phase one of three phases.

When I started phase one I was a teenager. I went from a very insular community out into a big world that I was not ready for. When I left the church no one came looking for me. I struggled through the realization that they didn’t care. I always suspected that but when it became a reality it hit me hard. I went to public school for a year and found I had nothing to talk to my peers about. When I was in the church I felt weird like I did not fit in and then when I went into public school I felt the same way. Everyone was planning for their future. I thought I had good grades and could have gotten into college but I had no one to help me navigate that journey. Neither of my parents attended college. By this time my mother was already pretty sick and preoccupied with raising my bother and dealing with her abusive husband. My father’s attitude was that if I had a husband I did not need an education. He felt the same way about driving which meant I did not learn to drive until I was much older. I discovered that I had missed many of the milestones that my peers had experienced and would continue to miss them because I had no way to know what was normal and how to get those experiences for myself. Over time I came to realize that my Christian school had supplied me with a subpar education. If I had someone to help me navigate the gaps I could have taken classes to fill in what was missing, the issue is I did not know what I did not know. I worked in restaurants for a long time and got a little apartment for myself. I did what I had to to survive and tried to tell myself that I had time and everything would be ok. I was always afraid of a wrathful god. When I cut my hair and pierced my ears there was this moment where I was just waiting for lightening to strike. This new world was both exciting and scary.

The next phase comes when you finally feel free from the group and you try to convince yourself that you can live without them and just get on with things. Many people I speak to can be stuck in this place for decades. They convince themselves they are doing great and have just left it all behind. Reality is usually much different. Sometimes during this period addictions will show up as a coping mechanism. Many survivors try to fill their lives with activities, family and work in an attempt to forget about the trauma, but the unresolved trauma is still there like a ticking time bomb. During this time if you talk about your trauma or pain people will often slap you on the back and say something like, “But you’re away from them now so life must be good!” This is phase two.

I left my abusive group and then jumped right into another one. I hear that is not uncommon. I only stayed in that group for a couple of years before leaving. During this phase, I reveled in my freedom and filled my life with having children and experiencing as much as I could after a life of real restriction. The pain of my past never went away. It was always lurking in the background with it’s best friend fear. I tried to listen to what pop psychology told me. I tried to release the past and I tried to forgive. I tried to get on with my new life. Now I’m not saying those are bad ideas, all I’m saying is that they are a very simple answer for an extremely complex problem. They did nothing to address my C-PTSD and in the end, I just ended up feeling more broken because I couldn’t just get over it. Over time I got more and more sick. I have always had insomnia but as I’ve aged it has become much more constant. The underlying stress and anxiety brewing within me caused me to have severe stomach issues that I am still trying to heal. I also have asthma which I do not think came from the trauma but it is well documented that mental health has a big role to play in how severe asthmatic symptoms are. My body was trying to send me messages and I just kept turning the music up louder and trying to convince myself I was ok.

Phase three is what I like to call the “wake up” phase. Sometimes it happens suddenly and sometimes in little things that add up to a creeping realization. By this time the addictions are at a breaking point or maybe you just don’t sleep anymore. However it displays, you reach a point where you can no longer ignore the toll the unresolved trauma has put on your body. Things will pop into your head that you just can’t shake and you can no longer make excuses for. I feel people often reach this stage when they are in midlife and things slow down a little. They have age and experience which causes them to view the world differently. They are fully adults now and are in a better position to judge where they came from. This is usually a crisis breaking point. Illusions fall away and the past you have been hiding from is waiting there for you.

My phase three went on for a very long time. Over the years the creeping realizations would make it hard for me to ignore what happened in the past. When my oldest child reached the age I was when I was molested I realized how little she was. I could see how sweet and innocent she was and I had a bit of a crisis. These things would happen from time to time over the years. As I matured I could see clearly the past decisions that the adults made around me during my childhood as monsterous and cruel. For a long time I would make excuses for them and try to find ways to not face up to how bad things really were. Once I started writing this blog I started to really wake up. It felt like blindfold after blindfold was ripped from my eyes forcing me to look at the trauma I suffered and get real with myself about the repercussions of it. This can be really hard, when you get to the point where you can’t look away. You can no longer deny the truth in front of you or make excuses for people’s bad choices. It forces you to change the way you think and can really change your life in profound ways. Some people lose what remaining family they have, some people just realize the depth of what was done to them in childhood. With all of that comes fresh waves of grief, anger, anxiety, fear, and so on.

Once you can see the trauma you suffered clearly then you have to get to work on healing yourself and figuring out how to live in your new reality. This is where I am right now. I left the UPC when I was 16, I’m now 49, that’s 33 years to get to this point. I am one of those people who is always working on myself, I’m introspective and I’m always seeking self improvement and it still took me 33 years. This is not a quick process and I suspect I will be healing from it forever. I am ok with that and I hope that you can be too. One of the hardest things is when the people you love or just the people you want to like you seem annoyed that “you’re still dealing with that?” They question why you can’t just forget and be happy. If you love me or even just like me some the best thing you can do for me is accept me where I’m at. Understand that this isn’t something that is just going to go away. It is something I’m working on all the time. Sit with me when I’m sad and don’t try to fix it, just let me know you’re there. Take me out for coffee and listen even if you’ve heard it a million times. Lastly try to remember that I’m doing my best.

 

Crime, Sexual Abuse, Shame, Southern Baptist Church, United Pentecostal Church

Timing

I have been thinking about this blog for days and today especially. My writing has slowed down to a trickle as I have been dealing with new parts of the trauma unearthed during the writing process. 2018 has been a weird year. It has been amazing in some respects and a horror show in others. One of the biggest lessons I learned this year is that they (The UPC) can still hurt me. I’m not talking about physically but emotionally. I was caught off guard multiple times by things I learned about Calvary Gospel and what has and is going on there. They continue to surprise me and I thought I was way beyond that. I participate in many online support groups like Ex-evangelical and some UPC specific groups. In those groups there are always folks who want these Christian organizations to reform themselves and acknowledge the pain they have caused. I think there was a corner of my heart that wanted that as well, but that is not how I feel now. I have been watching as this year has played out and what I see is organization after organization covering up crime on the backs of the abused. My wish for 2019 is that more people will feel emboldened to tell their stories and report. I want our laws and government to reflect the idea that just because you are a church doesn’t mean you get a free pass. My wish for myself is that I can continue to fight this fight even when it takes me to the darkest of places.

I have been thinking about how they keep us quiet. My younger self had this fear that if I told anyone the church might say ugly things about me and I think part of that fear still lives although on life support. They might say I was rebellious, or they might tell you how I snuck into movies in highschool or that I wore clear nail polish one summer, or worst of all they might say I was never really saved. When I look at it closely I know that nothing I did as a child would even register with most people as being a bad thing. These are the things they use to discredit women and girls within the UPC. She wears her skirts a little too short don’t you think? She asks too many questions or the wrong questions. She listens to the radio when her parents aren’t at home. Why do we care what they say? Well I guess the best answer is these are the people who raised us. We have so many shared experiences with these people and shame can be hard to shake off. Especially when it is served to you by those who are supposed to care for you. While women are discredited and condemned for any tiny little thing the perpetrators are given grace and forgiveness without stain or scar. They are not overly scrutinized or raked over the coals they are tolerated and enabled to abuse again and again. They are promoted and exalted even when they leave a trail of wounded in their wake. This is not ok.

I’m sorry if this seems a little rambly, I have had lots of thoughts swirling around in my head and I have been avoiding this blog and all writing really for months. I’m going to end my first blog post of 2019 with a reminder. I am here and so is this blog for you, the survivor. If you want a platform to tell your story please reach out to me and I would be happy to help in any way I can. I can’t promise that it will be all roses, healing and light, but I can promise that I will be here with you every step of the way. There are so many of us here waiting to hear your story and waiting to offer support. I think the timing is right, let’s make this the year we hold them all accountable.

D

Childhood, Confusing, Fear, Shame, United Pentecostal Church

Listening To That Inner Voice

During the process of writing about my childhood I’m finding more questions than answers. Opening the door to my past has caused me to remember things I have not thought about for a long time. Many of these events seemed weird at the time and now through my adult eyes they seem inappropriate. As these memories bubble up into the now I have asked people if they remember and if it all seems odd to them as well. In a recent conversation a friend and I discussed how we remember two things from our childhood growing up in the church, fear and sex.

For the lips of a strange woman drop as a honeycomb, and her mouth is smoother than oil. Proverbs 5:3

I started attending Calvary Christian Academy when I was 11 years old and in the 6th grade. We started attending the church when I was about 8. I was excited about starting a new school and finally being a part of the in-group. The principal at that point was Brother Rutherford. He seemed nice enough but had some strange quirks about him. Every morning we would read a passage together as a group. The goal was to memorize the verses and be able to repeat them back by the end of the month. If you wanted any extra freedoms or honor roll you had to have those verses memorized and signed off on. The thing is the verses we studied seem really strange when I look back on them now. The Bible is a long book and full of topics to focus on so why these verses were chosen is beyond me.

Drink waters out of thine own cistern, and running waters out of thine own well.

Let thy fountains be dispersed abroad, and rivers of waters in the streets.

Let them be only thine own, and not strangers’ with thee.

Let thy fountain be blessed: and rejoice with the wife of thy youth. Proverbs 5:15-18

Every morning we would stand and say the pledge and then read our verses. We read them as a mixed group out loud. I can remember being pretty embarrassed to read these things in front of the boys. It did not help that the older boys would tell bawdy jokes about them and snicker and laugh at my discomfort.

Let her be as the loving hind and pleasant roe; let her breasts satisfy thee at all times; and be thou ravished always with her love.

And why wilt thou, my son, be ravished with a strange woman, and embrace the bosom of a stranger? Proverbs 5:19-20

I have to ask if the men working in the school got some kind of perverse pleasure from watching teen girls recite these verses both as a group and then one on one. When we reached the end of the month either our supervisor Roy Grant or Brother Rutherford would come to our little office and listen to us recite the verses back to them. I can remember being really uncomfortable. I was very good at memorization so that wasn’t the issue, it was all of those breasts and lips.

O that thou wert as my brother, that sucked the breasts of my mother! when I should find thee without, I would kiss thee; yea, I should not be despised.

I would lead thee, and bring thee into my mother’s house, who would instruct me: I would cause thee to drink of spiced wine of the juice of my pomegranate. Song of Solomon 8:1-2

We would have a sort of chapel time and Brother Rutherford or Roy Grant would preach a mini sermon or teach a lesson. Often the subject matter would have something to do with the verses we were working on. So it isn’t that the verses were not explained, they were but I still have to ask, why was this something I needed to read/know at age 11? Why so much focus on cheating spouses and sexual love? Wouldn’t it be more beneficial for us to be studying the fruits of the spirit or maybe the sermon on the mount?

We have a little sister, and she hath no breasts: what shall we do for our sister in the day when she shall be spoken for?

If she be a wall, we will build upon her a palace of silver: and if she be a door, we will inclose her with boards of cedar.

I am a wall, and my breasts like towers: then was I in his eyes as one that found favour. Song of Solomon 8: 8-10

I have turned this over in my head time and again and I just don’t get it. Why all the verses about breasts? Of all of the topics available why this kind of thing over and over? If there is one thing I have learned in my life it is that where there is smoke there is fire. If it makes you feel uncomfortable there is a reason for that and you should listen to that inner voice. I do not know who picked those verses. It could have been Brother Rutherford or Pastor Grant but either way I think it was inappropriate. I could understand if we were older like 17 or so or if it was a class for people about to be married.

A side note, we always read from the KJV and we were taught that the Proverbs verses were about staying faithful to ones wife, and the Song of Solomon verses were about marital love. Imagine my surprise when I found that some view the Song of Solomon verses to be about Christ. That is not how it was taught to us.

Brother Rutherford and his family eventually left and I think they moved back to Texas. I do not remember why but I do remember that it seemed kind of sudden and fast. After that we had a new principal and the verses changed to more normal content.

You might ask why I am writing this entry, it is because as I try to figure out the past these things come to mind and then I can’t get them out of my mind. I comb over them over and over again trying to make sense of it all. Why did they focus so much on sexual topics? Why the pervy undertones? They had to have known that a young girl would feel uncomfortable reading those verses out loud, especially given how sheltered we were. If anyone remembers the Rutherfords and knows why they left I would love to know.

 

Childhood, Family, Sexual Abuse, Shame, United Pentecostal Church

Food, Shame, Trauma

Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve been thinking about the trauma I experienced as a young person. I’ve been thinking about my weight and wondering what role trauma has played in my day to day habits. Because of growing up UPC I have had to work very hard to learn to love myself. Shame was heaped on me during childhood and even now at 47 years old I still struggle to get rid of it. Much of that shame came from the church but some of it came from my parents.

As a child, I was often hungry. My mother never wanted people to know our business so I never reached out to teachers. During my elementary years I was still in public school and going home for lunch was how we hid the fact that there was nothing to put in my lunchbox. I felt shame every time I had to run home and scoop peanut butter out of the jar because that was all there was in the house to eat. I would eat it off the spoon and wash it down with some water before heading back to school. Peanuts do not agree with my stomach and I wonder if some of the stomach issues I had during childhood had something to do with this habit. Later on in middle school and early high school, we would be without electricity on and off. My mother would keep a cooler with milk and bologna in the kitchen. When I look back at photos of myself from age 12-15 I am super skinny. I’m skinny in an unhealthy way. I have to wonder why none of the adults in my life asked about whether or not I had enough to eat. I have one memory of an adult commenting to me but it was just a passing comment. She was sewing me a new school uniform for the year and she told me that I looked so thin she was afraid I would blow away if I wasn’t careful. At this point, the adults in the church knew about our money problems. If only my mother would get her heart right…

One time I dared to comment to an adult in our apartment complex that I was hungry. I was about 6 years old. This compassionate woman was our next door neighbor. She waited until my mother came home and brought us a bag of groceries. Inside was a loaf of bread and some milk, along with a few other things. My mother was VERY embarrassed and really angry with me for saying anything. I never did that again. The last thing I wanted to do was to make my mother angry. She would not only spank me but she would threaten me with hell for not being obedient.

The start of the time when I was the thinnest was right when Steve Dahl was molesting me. It is hard to know for sure what role his actions played but I have my suspicions. I have a clear as day memory of him telling me the only thing he would change about my body was my tiny tummy bump. My stomach wasn’t flat, it has never been flat even when I was a size 3. As I write this my tears are overwhelming me. I have never cried about this before, maybe I have unlocked something? One of the reasons that spending time with Steve was so alluring is because he fed me. He took me out for ice cream but also for real food if I was spending the day with him. My mother rarely had the money for that, but it was something my dad would do with me. My father being in and out of my life would make a big show of treating me when he was trying to make amends for being absent. Steve was in many ways a substitute father. Food was definitely part of the grooming process.

While at the Christian school I barely ate anything. I never ate breakfast and I would usually bring an apple or banana for lunch. I would save any change I found for the soda machine. I could get a soda for 25 cents. No one ever asked why I did not eat, in fact, no one really ever asked how I was doing. Right now I am talking about the adults, I’m sure that my friends commented but I’m also sure I just brushed it off. Once I reached about age 14 I started to make babysitting money. I would use this money to buy clothes (not food) because Sunday church was such a fashion show and I was already one of the poor kids. I just wanted to fit in. When I was old enough to work I got a job at a steakhouse and then I was never hungry. I was given one free meal per shift and I had money to buy food for when I was not working. I worked as often as I could. I would often pay for my friends and me to grab a slice of pizza or some other fast food, I liked being able to treat them.

I left the church at 16 years old and launched into adulthood. I had my first apartment at 17 and I was married at 19. In my early to mid 20’s I started to gain weight. Some of it may have to do with the damage done to my body during childhood. It seemed that I gained really easily and if I ate what “normal” people ate I would balloon up. For years this tortured me. My first husband mocked me and made fun of my body, which I’m sure you can guess did not help. I could not figure out what was going on and all the doctors would say to me is to eat less, exercise more. I did that. When I wasn’t pregnant or nursing I ate very little and worked out whenever the kids were not awake. It did not make a difference.

Thankfully around 1998, I discovered feminism! It has taken me years to learn to love myself and let go of shame. I have been working on being more healthy overall. Physically, mentally, and emotionally. Balance is very important to me. I have discovered that I am an athlete. Being a plus size woman can make that hard, but I love being athletic so much and I have not let my weight stop me. That being said I am not perfect. I try hard to eat healthily and I try to love myself even when I don’t see the scale move, even if the scale never moves. During my long struggle with my body, it has never really occurred to me until now that maybe some of my childhood trauma has affected my body. One thing about writing is that it brings things to the surface that you might never notice otherwise.

I know that the lifelong insomnia that I suffer from is at least in part caused by being afraid of missing the rapture. I’m hypervigilant even though I no longer believe that doctrine. As a kid, I would lay awake worried about the rapture and I would often be awakened by nightmares about it. I’m sure I have sexual abuse trauma hiding out in my body. Little by little as I bring my trauma out into the light I hope that some of that trauma can be released. I wonder how many of us within the #churchtoo movement suffer from the same physical issues.

I hope you can excuse this long rambly post. I knew what I wanted to write about today but I wasn’t sure how it was going to come out. Much of this I am still unwinding and trying to make sense of it all. To all those out there who feel I should just let it go, get over it, and move on, I wish it was that easy. I am the walking wounded, working to heal a little more each day.

Childhood, Crime, Leadership, Sexual Abuse, Shame, United Pentecostal Church

True Colors

When I was a child I was taught that we were not supposed to associate with people outside of the church. The church was very narrowly defined as the United Pentecostal Church. I even got the impression that my pastor did not approve of some of the churches within our Wisconsin UPC district. I know that he thought the church in Janesville was too liberal. If someone left the church they were generally shunned unless the purpose of talking to them was to bring them back into the fold.

It is peculiar to me that so many people from UPC churches here in Wisconsin associate with Steve Dahl. He is not ordained as a UPC minister but that doesn’t seem to matter to them. His doctrine mirrors the UPC doctrine but that usually would not be enough. These are very insular people and they do not associate with outsiders. In my view, there is no bigger outsider than Steve Dahl. I’m sure that not everyone within the district knows about his past but enough of them do. I wonder what he says when they ask why he is not ordained within the UPC? What is even more strange is they preach at his church and he travels to other churches within the UPC. He has followers on his Facebook page who attended CGC when he committed his crimes and yet it seems that time has healed all memory of what he did.

I never felt clean after what Steve did to me. I struggled through my adolescence always feeling judged. As a young person once you have the stain of sexual sin on you it can be impossible to remove. I felt like the adults around me were always assuming I was acting inappropriately. I could never grow past what happened to me. Shame was applied liberally and I soaked it all up. Now as an adult as I try to tell my story from a vulnerable and honest place I am aware that nothing has changed.

Just like when I was a child they prefer the child abuser over the abused child. As I and others have tried to speak out and tell our stories we are scoffed at and declared to be liars by some who don’t even know us or the details of our stories. The church has gone out of its way to be friendly with Steve. They are friends with him on social media and they visit one another’s churches. Just like when the abuse happened he seems to be accepted and I am denied. They did not report his actions at the time and he was taken in by another UPC church. He was eventually put in charge of a daughter work and now it is like nothing ever happened. He does not hold a UPCI license but that doesn’t seem to matter much to them. Meanwhile, when I speak my truth they do not want to hear it. My story is automatically met with denial, disbelief, and scorn. there is no willingness to even entertain the idea that I might be telling the truth. Steve is enjoying a fair amount of support on his page. People are offering him prayers and verbal encouragement as he goes through this difficult trial. Not one person who is still in the church has reached out to me.

It isn’t like this is even a he said she said case. At 12 I had no reason to lie and he was caught in the act with another girl at the same time. At the end of the day, I think accusing Steve would not irritate them so much, what really gets them is my calling out how badly they handled it all. They can’t stand that I am saying Bishop Grant is wrong. They view me as a fallen woman and not as a victim.

Watching how well Steve has been received and how much the church wants to deny all of this has hurt me. When I see people I used to respect, like former Sunday School teachers being friends with Steve online that is pretty hard to witness. The really awful part of this is that Steve is not the only one. I know of multiple men who go on being accepted while the women they abused are labeled liars and troublemakers. As far as I’m concerned they lose all credibility when they behave this way. They are not behaving Biblically or in accordance with their own UPC rules.

I know that the light casts out the darkness and so I have no doubt that the truth is going to come out. I intend to keep working to hold them accountable and I hope that someday soon Steve will have his day of reckoning. I’m going to keep telling the truth. The truth doesn’t change just because people don’t want to believe it.

D

A.C.E., Childhood, Fear, Rapture, Self Esteem, Sexual Abuse, Shame, Sin, United Pentecostal Church

Girl Interrupted

Once when I was in therapy the therapist asked me to envision my child self. My mind went to a field we had near my childhood home. I would run around that field playing Wonder Woman. I went sledding with my dog down the hill beside the field and I would make crowns from the dandelions I found in the grass. When envisioning my child self my mind immediately took me to that place and sitting in the grass making crowns and placing dandelions in my hair. That little girl was still pretty carefree but that wouldn’t last for long. By that time I had been exposed to rapture theology and my parents were struggling within their marriage and we were poor. Even with all of that to worry about I was still an adventurous, imaginative, happy-go-lucky little girl.

Little Debbie

We started attending Calvary Gospel on and off in 1978. By 1980 I was becoming pretty entrenched. You might think that Steve Dahl was the first thing to interrupt my girlhood but I don’t think that is true. What came first was fear. Calvary Gospel was awash in it at that point. Sermons like the one that lead to my salvation were not the exception they were common. My world kept getting smaller and smaller. It seemed like everything was a sin and the devil was everywhere just waiting to deceive and maybe gobble up a little girl like me. The seeds to all of my anxiety were planted, watered, and tended there. How can you be a little girl when all you can think about is hell, the rapture, and what sin you might have committed while just going about your day? It didn’t take long before innocent things like watching cartoons on tv or listening to the radio could be enough to damn me for eternity. This is where I learned to make myself small and it has impacted my life in a very negative way. I became super fearful and so I stopped taking chances/risks and instead tried to stay safe. Safety is good but it can go too far. I believe all success requires being willing to take some risks.

Soon I learned that women were supposed to be quiet in church. Women’s role in family life was to be submissive to the husband and to raise the children. I was never asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, I think it was assumed I would be a quiet submissive wife. When I was a little girl I wanted to be a minster. I would line up all my dolls on the sofa along with my stuffed animals and Barbies. We would have church and I would lead the worship and preach the message. At about age 10 I stopped dreaming about what I wanted to be when I grew up. Soon my goals shifted to being an evangelists wife and going to a UPC supported music school. I knew that a good ministers wife needed to know how to sing and play an instrument in order to support her husbands work. I went from being the leading lady to being a support player. Wonder Woman was long out of my reach.

A.C.E. did not help. I attended the church school and those old PACES did not show women doing much other than working with kids. We did not have many great electives to take and the work itself was not inspiring. Most of the time I was bored out of my mind. I went in a bright straight A student and left hating school and just wanting it to be over. No one ever talked to me about college or offered to help me with picking a career. The staff seemed just as miserable as the students. It was not an environment that fostered curiosity, questions, or deep thinking. It was learning by memorization, no real thinking required. Things that could not be taught that way, like algebra turned into a nightmare for me. I am a kinesthetic learner and I love a good discussion. There was no place for any of that within my Christian education. In my late high school years, I toyed with the idea of becoming a teacher but nothing ever came of that dream. The idea of college just became too much to try to figure out in the midst of all of the other things going on in my life. Even being a teacher was a downgrade from another childhood dream of being a doctor. Public school in the 70’s taught me I could be anything, the church and Christian school undid all of that.

Steve Dahl took what little bit of self-esteem I had and crushed it. That experience made me feel dirty and sinful. I had a pretty good body image before he came into my life but that all changed. I started to see my body as a sinful trap that kept ensnaring this godly man. I felt betrayed by my body because at times I enjoyed the attention he gave me. I started to see my body as something that needed to be hidden, controlled and prayed for. I certainly did not feel fearfully and wonderfully made. I did not feel created in god’s image. All of the things that made me a woman seemed evil and wrong. Eve was my mother and well we all know how things went for her.

Age 11

Catching a husband seemed important. I worried about being attractive but not too attractive or attractive in the wrong way. I was half Mexican and so that added an extra level of difficulty. I could not get a straight answer about who it was ok for me to marry. At that time interracial marriage was considered wrong and there were no other Mexicans in our congregation. I felt that my being half Mexican meant I needed to find a Mexican husband, and that seemed like a tall order. I dated Caucasians boys but I always felt the undertone of racism that existed there. I would not be anybody’s first choice. I was tainted by my molestation and the color of my skin. I felt lesser. My parents were not part of the in crowd and that also lead to me feeling like a second-class citizen. It made me feel even smaller.

About 15

Yesterday I was talking with some other survivors about who we could have been had we not grown up in the UPC environment. We all feel like girls interrupted. Our childhood interrupted and corrupted by Calvary Gospel church. Our innocence was stolen. We were not allowed to be kids. The adults always seemed to have their minds in the gutter and so every innocent thing became an opportunity for sin and especially sex to invade our lives, and yet no protection was offered to keep us safe from the real dangers. Predators were protected and supported while victims were scorned and not to be trusted. We received a substandard education and the church seemed to care more about whether or not our skirts had slits than whether or not be could go to college. The adults in my life didn’t seem to care about the lack of food in my home or about the devastation that my abuse caused in my life. If they had done that one thing, protected me from my abuser my life could have been so different. If they had offered loving support and reassurance my life could have been so much better. They took beautiful, bright, and hopeful young girls and turned them into anxious, fearful, and damaged women.

Now as we try to raise awareness about what happened to us all the church can do is scorn us. They can’t seem to understand or they don’t care to see what they have done to us. These things are not things you just move on from it takes hard work, support, and a lifetime of striving to overcome. There isn’t a single one of us who hasn’t been striving to be better no matter what our damage is. We don’t desire to be bitter we desire justice and we hope to save other children from the fate we have suffered. We were girls interrupted but now we are women seeking to bring about change.

Last year my word for the year was restoration. I wanted to go back to the time before I was so afraid. I wanted to see my body as a miracle and a blessing and I wanted to say goodbye to shame once and for all. I worked to remember who I was before my worth was called into question. Last year was a big year. My life has totally changed. I feel like my life has been restored. I’m taking chances again and I’m daring to go after what I want. I’ve stepped out of the shadows and I’ve become more engaged in my community and politics. I’ve been reunited with old friends and found many new friends and supporters. I’ve learned I’m not alone thanks to #metoo/#churchtoo. I am not the person the church might like you to think I am. I’m not bitter, I’m strong. I’m not trying to engage them in spiritual warfare, I’m trying to seek justice for my child self. I’m trying to tell the truth and speak for all of those who cannot speak for themselves. Wonder Woman doesn’t seem so out of reach now.

D